CALAIS - AUGUST 8-9, 2019
The summer brings a swell in numbers to the border and the police violence and evictions continue. Brexit remains a hot topic of conversation with some young refugees having educated themselves on the issues and wanting to air them.
This week we met people from a remarkable range of countries including Chad, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Niger, Togo, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
Several hundred tents were counted by Medecins du Monde during a recent outreach into the wooded area on the outskirts of Calais. Doctors have been busy, and struggling with the madness of this context within France.
On arrival we were shocked to see tents pitched in the road itself and by how dangerous this is. We also noted police vans on the road and more areas cordoned off. It has been over a month since we were last at the distribution and it was busier now. We heard that some people were reluctant to go to the hospital, making the queue to the doctor more intense. Services are trying to respond to the weight and complexity of work but misinformation can add to a sense of confusion. People wanted to know why we were there and how we could help.
The diversity of the people at the map was striking with an increase in numbers from West Africa in particular, and routes discussed that we have not seen before. The juxtaposition of the tablecloth map on the rough ground with the large map on the side of the ambulance allowed for different perspectives and types of conversation in relation to borders and journeys.
The Community Table this week held four typewriters - two British and two French with their respective keyboard layouts. The physical and mechanical nature of these machines along with paper, pens, books and stencils helped create a working table atmosphere. The Day Centre was itself busy and since last time a greater number of vegetable boxes have been built along one length of the outside space, already planted with summer salads and herbs.
The Community Table was used with great interest across the five hours while others hovered nearby with curiosity. Several of the men joined us from our previous visits and continued to work on a variety of personal projects. Writing took place in French, English, Tigrinya and Spanish.
A few of the men seemed only able to tolerate being at the typewriter for brief periods of time, the typewriter acting as a helpful regulator perhaps, while we sat alongside.
There seemed this week to be an increased understanding of the importance of wellbeing in this border context. However it took time to negotiate what this meant to different people and to make sense of individual perspectives on dreaming, imagination, culture and hope.